BUDAPEST — This is from someone who lives in Los Angeles: it is a pity that Budapest dropped out of the race for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Democracy is what it is. The will of the people is what it will be.
But if these first few days of the 2017 FINA world championships are any indication, and they are, Budapest would make a great stage for a Summer Olympics.
“First of all, well done, Hungary,” the Australian national swim team coach Jacco Verhaeren said at an opening news conference.
At the kick-off U.S. news conference, the veteran U.S. swimmer Matt Grevers — the London 2012 backstroke gold medalist — said, and these remarks spoke for a great many people, “Hungary has blown me away.”
Start with the obvious: the backdrop.
“The city is lovely, there are a lot of beautiful old buildings,” the Aussie swimmer Bronte Campbell said.
“We were over the Danube River, on the bridges. When we will finish, we will have three more extra days and I will look around. I want to go to the baths, now I'm not sure, just go check out the vibe of the city.” She added, and this was the farthest thing from gratuitous, ”People seem friendly.”
Back to Grevers: “Taking a water taxi to the pool,” a boat up the Danube to the Duna Arena, and what a way to commute to race day, “no one is going to forget that.
Let’s move on: the venues.
That arena. Built in just 18 months. Guadalajara, the original 2017 championships venue, withdrew about two years ago. Budapest was supposed to do the worlds in 2021. The Hungarians stepped in for 2017 -- thinking, you know, it could be in part be a springboard (diving pun intended) for 2024.
Things were going along swimmingly (OK, again) for 2024. And then earlier this year, suddenly they weren't. But these 2017 worlds -- they for sure are going along, and going strong.
“The pool is wonderful. It surely is,” said the Hungarian-born Italian diver Noemi Batki, the European champion platform diver. “Probably the most amazing one I have ever seen.”
She added, “Competing in Budapest was awesome, I felt like competing on home soil, really. On top of that, apparently the audience knew that the Italian team has a Hungarian member and they cheered on me accordingly. Feeling loved by the audience is great, especially because I left the country at a very early age and have been living in Italy ever since, yet Hungarians fans treated me like a local athlete. I have Hungarian blood running through my veins so seeing the home crowd cheering on me was amazing.”
Echoed the veteran and versatile Hungarian swimmer László Cseh after Sunday morning’s 50-meter butterfly preliminaries, “Being roared on by the home crowd is amazing.”
It’s not just Danu that is amazing. The synchronized swimming competition at City Park?
“This is one of the best pools I’ve ever swum in, amazing place, one we will never forget,” said the American Kanako Spendlove. She and partner Bill May took bronze in the mixed duet discipline.
“We are really grateful,” she went on, “to the organizers and the volunteers for their job.”
These sorts of high notes have been sounding since the opening ceremony — a spectacular two-hour interplay over the river of light, sound, water, music and, at the end, a fireworks bonanza.
I have covered the Olympic scene for 20 years, and of course this is just one opinion, but that opening along the Danube River is the best I have witnessed in all that time but for the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, and of course no one could ever compete with 2008 drums going off in unison at exactly 8:08 p.m. to signal China’s arrival as a 21st century world power.
Besides, that isn’t what Hungary is trying to do here.
This isn’t about Hungary and world domination.
It’s about what Hungary has always been about in world sports — an important country in its own right surprising the world when the rest of us really shouldn’t be surprised because the people of Hungary seemingly always over-produce.
Here is a country of not even quite 10 million people. For comparison, the population of metropolitan Los Angeles is an estimated 13 million.
When you look at Olympic history, at the medals chart, Hungary is on the top-10 list — the one nation with the strongest history in the movement that has never played host to the Games.
Again, the will of the people is what it is.
But it so, so obvious that Budapest would rock the Olympic Games.